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His homeland hails, spurns ex-Polish spy

Published Sep. 13, 2005

It's a homecoming fit for a hero: He sleeps in the renaissance Wawel castle, meets with workers and academics, visits cities symbolic of Polish patriotism, and takes a day off to hike the Tatras mountains.

But public ambivalence _ not widespread adulation _ surrounds the first trip home in 17 years for Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, a Cold War spy who most of all wants Poles to forgive him for passing communist government secrets to the CIA for nearly a decade.

Making what he called an "emotional pilgrimage," Kuklinski said the most painful experience of his exile has been the knowledge that many Poles feel he betrayed his nation.

"Part of Polish society feels I am still a man without honor," Kuklinski said Wednesday in a speech full of praise for his homeland. "I believe history will correct this."

Support for his cause is strongest in Krakow, where city leaders initiated Kuklinski's 11-day visit. For them, the colonel is a hero comparable to Krakow patriot Tadeusz Kosciuszko, who fought in the American Revolution and later led an uprising against the powers occupying Poland.

At the city hall, a trumpeter opened a solemn ceremony granting Kuklinski honorary citizenship _ previously bestowed on U.S. Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Kuklinski wiped away tears during a ballad to wandering soldiers as a war veteran sat at his side.

Outside, supporters stopped to catch a glimpse of the gray-bearded man in a three-piece charcoal suit. Critics _ including some city council members _ stayed away.

A court ruled in September that Kuklinski acted in Poland's best interest, dismissing a communist-era conviction of treason and desertion and a death penalty sentence.

However, the Solidarity-led government refrained from offering a hero's welcome, and President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an ex-communist, snubbed Kuklinski.

Today, Kuklinski weighs his personal losses against what he saw as his duty to Poland.

"I was not able to appreciate the price I would pay," Kuklinski said. "But yes, I probably would do the same again."

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